Threatening Messages in Climate Change Communication
MetadataShow full item record
Climate change will have disastrous consequences if left unchecked. Climate change communication represents a means to encourage conservation behavior and support for climate mitigation policies. One oft-discussed but little studied form of communication is to present a threat in an effort to persuade; such threatening messages are often called fear appeals. This dissertation applies a popular model of fear appeals, the Extended Parallel Process Model, to examine threatening messages in climate change communication. The first chapter examines the use of threats and efficacy messages in The New York Times, The Times (London), and The Economist (UK Edition). It finds about half of all ads contained a mention of a threat, but, different from many other studies of persuasive public communications, threats were frequently paired with efficacy messages. Significant differences between periodicals and between the US and UK are also found. The second chapter presents an experiment where right-leaning US respondents who viewed climate change fear appeals exhibited psychological reactance, a combination of anger and counterarguments in response to a perceived threat to freedom. Reactance served to suppress support for mitigation policy: right-leaning respondents who experienced reactance decreased their support for policy more than those who viewed a control ad and those who did not experience reactance. Reactance also suppressed donation behavior to both liberal and conservative causes. Finally, a third chapter examines the role of psychological distance (how closely climate change is perceived) and collective efficacy (the belief everyone can work together) on mitigation policy support in a climate change fear appeal. The experiment showed evidence that left-leaning respondents increased their policy support with closer psychological distance (an image of an American city vs. a city in the Philippines). Further, right-leaning respondents experienced a “boomerang” effect: ads with a collective efficacy message decreased mitigation policy support among right-leaning respondents. This dissertation has several policy implications: threatening ads have been used in English-language print media, they may serve to polarize audiences further by moving right-leaning readers farther away from mitigation policy support, and the psychologically distant portrayal of climate impacts may also affect support for mitigation policy.
- Public Affairs